This is the second section of my paper: Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters. The previous section can be found at: The Broad Way Towards Bankruptcy
On the other side of the equation, the CCSA has proven that they are more than willing to compete with the LAUSD on a fight to the death basis, especially during the electoral process. Prior to the last election, the most vocal opponent of charters on the LAUSD Board was Bennett Kayser, who the Broad Foundation describes as “an implacable foe of charters [who] opposed charter petitions routinely.” To silence this opposition, $600,000 was spent in the campaign against him that included literature that Board Member George McKenna described as “misleading and racially inflammatory in nature” and an ad that Diane Ravitch called a “shameful hit piece” which appeared to mock the fact that Kayser has Parkinson’s disease. Another $1,670,765.64 was spent supporting his opponent, “Ref Rodriguez, the co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) charter schools”. During the election, “School Board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of Ref Rodriguez,” attempted to delay the release of an audit that found PUC failed “to consistently follow some required business practices.”
This spending has produced two types of LAUSD Board members; those who support charters and those who are afraid to confront them. They have put José Cole-Gutiérrez, a former staff member of the California Charter School Association, in charge of the Charter School Division (CSD). Instead of promoting competition, Cole-Gutiérrez describes the organizations that he is supposed to oversee as “valuable partners and viable choices among the District’s robust set of educational options” and advocates “to ensure that charter schools have…autonomy”. This was not how the law was written. The CSD itself admits that the LAUSD “is responsible for ensuring the charter school operates in compliance with all applicable laws and terms of its charter.” Without proper oversight, the 250 charters within the District have been allowed to operate without accountability to the taxpayers who fund them or the 130,000 students who rely on them to provide a quality education. In some cases, the results have been disastrous.
On October 28, 2015, the LAUSD issued a “Notice to Cure” to El Camino Charter High School that noted numerous questionable credit card charges and a lack of a credit card policy. This notice demanded that the Governing Board provide an action plan to the CSD by October 30, and “copies of updated board approved fiscal policies and procedures and proof of implementation of the above requested board action items no later than close of business on November 30, 2015.” El Camino’s Chief Business Officer Marshall “Mayotte called the district’s scrutiny ‘nitpicky’” and the Board apparently ignored the deadline. It appears the CSD did not take further action.
While the CSD seemed to lose interest in what was going on at El Camino, the story did attract the interest of a reporter. Fully aware of this investigation, the Executive Director, David Fehte, sent a pre-emptive letter to parents referencing “the request made by LAUSD last October” and stating that a “reporter has approached several staff members on campus to ask leading questions.” Despite acknowledging that the reporter had “made multiple requests under the Public Record [sic] Act and had been provided with years of receipts and invoices from our accounting staff”, Fehte concluded that “he has shown a lack of interest in researching all of the facts or understanding our school policies.” Concern was expressed that “because of the nature of the reporter’s questions, and his lack of interest in anything positive about the school, we believe this article is being crafted in a way that will put ECRCHS in a negative light.”
Fehte had a reason to be concerned because the article published on May 22, 2016 was extremely dark and critical of him and the charter. In summary, the Executive Director had “charged more than $100,000 to the [school’s credit] card”, including “$15,500 at Monty’s” Prime Steaks & Seafood, “first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms” and “more than $5,700 for flowers over the two years.” Contrary to the Executive Director’s letter to the parents, the article also stated that Fehte had “declined to sit down for an interview.” A followup article focused on an $866 bill for an “itinerary to [Fehte’s] office at the San Antonio Spurs corporate headquarters” but paid for by El Camino. Fehte was moonlighting as a scout for the NBA team.
Following the news reports, the Governing Board finally took the steps that had been demanded by the CSD. At its June meeting the Board “voted unanimously to pay Oracle of Chino Hills $195 an hour to perform a forensic accounting of the school credit card charges.” It “also requested the assistance of the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team” at a cost of “an estimated $28,000.” It was clear that it while the CSD had found the problems and recommended solutions, it was the news reports that had forced the Governing Board to act.
The CSD has also been slow to act on violations at GHCHS. It took them almost ten months to force the charter to remove from the Student-Parent Handbook the warning that students who do not “participate fully in California CAASPP and Granada Testing” will be prohibited from participating in “optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics”. This clearly violates a parent’s opt-out rights under state law. The CSD is still looking for ways to “encourage” GHCHS to comply with the California Public Records Act by allowing anyone reviewing records to take pictures of the documents. However, the most concerning failure to take action involves possible improprieties with the Associated Student Body (ASB) account.
On April 14, 2016, the CSD and all of the Board members were notified that the charter’s management had made the following transactions from the ASB account in 2012:
Jan04 Emergency transfer – LACOE ACH 310,000.00-
June28 Emergency loan for cash flow. 600,000.00-
Jul13 Emergency Transfer 100,000.00-
Aug07 Emergency Transfer 25,000.00-
While these loans were all repaid, no interest was included. It is unclear if the ASB had approved the loans, if these types of loans are even allowed by law or if the loans were a violation of the charter’s fiduciary responsibility to the student body’s funds. The amount of funds in the ASB is also concerning as these funds are supposed to be used for the benefit of the students. This account was also not fully protected as the funds were only “federally insured up to $250,000 by the NCUA”. Thus far, the only response from anyone in the district has been that the Administrative Coordinator is “turning this over to our fiscal team for review.” On December 1, 2015, the school removed another $600,000.00 from the account.
The CSD also looked the other way when, in violation of its charter, GHCHS eliminated the elected teacher and classified employee representatives from the Governing Board. While a representative from the state’s Charter Schools Division states that “changes in [a charter school’s] governance relating to the composition and/or qualifications of members of their board of directors” “would require a material revision,” and, therefore, require approval from the LAUSD, a request for this change was never submitted it to the LAUSD Board for approval.
The education code also gives districts “the right to appoint a single representative to the [charter’s] governing board,” but the LAUSD has refused to avail of itself of this opportunity. Imagine if the rules of baseball allowed each team to place a player in the opposition’s dugout and a manager did not take advantage of this opportunity! Having a set of eyes on these Boards would give the District early warning when charters were engaged in illegal or inappropriate behaviors. If the District chose parents or teachers for these positions, it would be a way to make sure that stakeholders were involved in the governance of these schools even when the governing boards were not democratically elected.
GHCHS and El Camino are both conversion schools. They were high performing traditional schools and continue this tradition as charters. However, as a whole, “charters have been shown to offer no tangible academic advantages over traditional public schools.” By the Broad’s own account, 48% of charters in Los Angeles had an API below 800. If the purpose of charters is to “improve pupil learning” and deliver “on the promise of a great public education”, then only excellent results should be acceptable. Yet the LAUSD Board rarely revokes charters, almost always renews them (even when the CSD recommends against doing so) and keeps on accepting new ones.
While the CSD states that “the final decision on any approval, revocation, or renewal is within the discretion of the Board of Education”, the Board often states that the law requires these approvals. They do not explain how a law can require an elected official to rubberstamp a decision against their will. Another popular excuse is that, if they reject the petition, the county or state will step in and approve the charter, leaving the LAUSD without any control. It is true that this has been the case with the limited numbers of charters that have been rejected in the past. However, the county and state do not have the infrastructure to deal with a large number of charters. If the LAUSD rejects enough sub-par charters, the county and state will also be forced to be more discriminating in what they accept. That is how competition is supposed to work.
Next: Proposition 39
I am a candidate for the District 2 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. You can voice your support for my campaign through DFA. Opinions are my own. You can interact with me on Twitter @ChangeTheLAUSD